Getting the right education can be a powerful career accelerator. At least that's what Andre Alfred, senior director at Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and Western Governors University alumnus, discovered when he earned his bachelor's degree in business IT management in 2014.
Andre worked in IT management, and he had a busy family life, but he wanted to deepen his expertise and chose WGU's flexible program. The program allowed him to put the certifications and knowledge he had toward his degree, and he was strategic about his coursework—he sped through courses he was already competent in, using WGU's competency-based model to its fullest and accelerating his progress. It took Andre half the time it would have at other schools to complete his degree.
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We asked Andre a few questions about his WGU journey, and he shared some nuggets of wisdom for current and future WGU students.
My Program Mentor [a program-level faculty member] was a great coach. They were able to help me assess which courses I thought would be most challenging and those I already would have experience in. That way, I could create an incentive to make it through a difficult course by rewarding myself with a course with mostly familiar material.
I started with the pre-assessments, when the course offered them, to understand where I stood quantitatively. Using feedback from the pre-assessments as guidelines, I was able to structure my study material accordingly. My mentor would also help me use WGU resources to improve my skills where I needed them most.
The key is to not blaze through all of the comfortable courses and leave yourself with difficult ones at the end. Pace yourself. Take the uncomfortable courses and disperse them throughout your personal plan so that each month can feel rewarding.
First, the understanding and support of my wife and family. Second, the flexibility of the program itself. Finally, WGU accepted credits from previous certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional and Project Management Professional certifications I held at the time. Because I could use my technical and managerial experience in my course of study and on my examinations, I was able to quickly advance through a number of courses.
My wife deserves a lot of credit for picking up a significant portion of my duties at home. I essentially blocked off most evenings for WGU time—from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on the weekdays and a significant portion of the weekends. The work is challenging and fulfilling, but it requires a significant time commitment to complete.
Assessing financial statements, making make-or-buy decisions, and understanding the science behind leadership were all immediately useful in my role. Everything I learned during the course of my study was, in most cases, instantly usable in my career.
I think working with your mentor to structure your course of study is important. Be open about which material you are comfortable with and which you aren't. Prepare your family or support system; let them know that you will need time, and adjust the processes in the household. Include your family as part of the journey and explain to them why education is important.
After thinking about my experience, I wish I would have completed my program even sooner!
Thinking strategically about your future.
Because programs at WGU are tailored to each student's knowledge base and career goals, everyone's experience is different. But as Andre's experience shows, every student has the opportunity to move strategically—even rapidly—through their program if they work closely with their mentor, set up the right support structures, and pace themselves. If you prepare properly, a quality, flexible degree program at WGU can be a significant career accelerator.